Bloomin photo extraction.jpg

Breaking Into The Cannabis Industry: Cannabis Concentrates Extractor

December 18th 2018 photo/Istock/Yana Tatevosian

By Roger Malespin

Many of the main cannabis industry jobs that are not quite entry level but in the tier right above them take place in a lab. Of these, the most accessible to newcomers is probably the cannabis concentrates extractor. Concentrates have been around for centuries, going as far back as 900 years in the Middle East with hashish, which was later brought back to Europe by Napoleon. Nowadays, with the vast increase in knowledge and tech, extraction is more effective and versatile than ever. Here are some of the requirements and duties that an extractor will be expected to perform.

For starters, a degree in laboratory science (chemistry, biology, biochem) is preferred but not always required. Without a degree, some experience in lab work and/or some of the tech involved is desirable. You will have to be familiar with the general laboratory production processes and procedures, as well as terminology and concepts. Additionally, this job requires high levels of concentration and a keen attention to detail. Lab and chemical work is potentially dangerous, so knowledge of and strict adherence to safety procedures is a no brainer.

So what exactly does an extractor do? A lot, it turns out. Extracting is done for the same purpose it always has been - to maximize potency of cannabis - but the ways to do it and the products derived are more numerous than ever today. Vape pens, salves, and infused edibles are just some of the products derived from CO2 concentrates, and many more can be catered to customer desires. Techs will have to know the different parts of the plants as well as the different strains. Depending on the product, extractors will have to select the corresponding part of the cannabis plant to use.

Generally speaking, extraction can be categorized into solvent and solventless extraction. Each has its pros and cons depending on consumers you ask. Solventless extraction is when extracts are produced without any other substances except water. Solventless is the older method; hash, for example, has long been a staple of solventless extract (though it can be made other ways today). Kief is another common solventless extract and is relatively simple to make, where the tiny white crystals on the cannabis flower are harvested using a three-chambered dryer. Solventless is less complicated and dangerous than solvent and what newer workers will be dealing with at first.

Solvent based extraction is more complicated. As the cannabis industry grows, so too does the need for innovation, and here is where solvent based extractions shine. However, adding extra chemicals is potentially dangerous during production, and having any leftover solvent in the final product can leave a bad taste, so solvent based methods are tricky all around. Some solvent based products include Butane hash oil (BHO), and quick-wash ISO Extraction, where dried flower is soaked in isopropyl alcohol. Depending on the exact methods of the refining process, the final product will have different consistencies, hence the different names like wax and honeycomb. These products will be prepared by the more educated or trained workers.

What makes these products so desirable to the consumers is customization. Technology has gotten to the point where pressures and solvent ratios can be fine tuned to tiny degrees, so customers can have their wants or needs met with precision. It also is a fertile field of innovation, and new products and methods are being developed all the time. Those who work in extractions can find themselves quite literally on the cutting edge of the newest cannabis technology and products.

The daily duties of these workers include measuring plant characteristics using various tools, preparing, utilizing, and cleaning extractors as per safety guidelines, and refining oils using methods commonly found in other chemical/food manufacturing. Accurately recording detailed data throughout the entire manufacturing process is crucial, so there will be a lot to learn about all aspects of plant cultivation and processing stages.

Extractors usually have some barrier to entry but they aren’t very high, and you might be able to find companies who will hire the right people without degrees or significant lab experience. They typically make at least $20 per hour, but there is some variation depending on who employs you and where. If you feel this type of work is right for you and you don’t have the experience, research the companies in your area and reach out with a cover letter explaining why you want it. You never know if the right person is reading and will give you a shot.